Major capital improvements on the way

Fulfilling part of its promise to Head Football Coach Dennis Franchione, The University of Alabama is set to announce a multi-million dollar capital building campaign next week. <br><br>Facilities targeted for improvement include: Bryant Hall, the Football Complex, weight rooms, the Thomas-Drew Practice Fields, Coleman Coliseum, tennis facilities and the Hank Crisp Indoor practice field.

The total cost of all the various projects will be in the tens of millions of dollars, so Tide Athletics Director Mal Moore will also announce a major fund-raising campaign to pay the bills. The figure most often mentioned was $40 million, but depending on the final plans, that number could go up.

Major contributors have already been contacted, and unconfirmed reports have Alabama's fund-raising efforts already approaching the $30 million mark.

Bryant Hall

Referred to as the "Bear Bryant Hilton" when it was first built, the then football dormitory was considered the finest, most luxurious facility in the nation. Originally it housed the entire football team in specially furnished rooms, featuring seven-foot long beds, blackout drapes on the windows, two dining areas, apartments for coaches, guest rooms, a backyard patio with grill, and enough recreation equipment to furnish a downtown YMCA.

A major part of the capital improvement plan will be the construction of a new weight room, added on to the end of the present Football Complex.

NCAA regulations--aimed at limiting the advantages that major football powers like Alabama had over smaller schools--forced massive changes in the way universities house and care for their athletes. And except for the dining halls, which are still in operation, for the last several years Bryant Hall has frankly been underutilized.

At the top of the current list of priorities is a complete renovation for the facility, designed to turn Bryant Hall into a state-of-the-art academic support facility. Computer labs, study halls, tutoring areas and the latest in educational technology will be installed.

When finished, Bryant Hall will obviously benefit football, but in fact every athlete in every sport at Alabama will use the facility.

Football Complex addition

Of primary interest to most football fans are plans to add on to the existing Football Complex in the direction of Paul Bryant Drive. The new area will take up what are now two tennis courts and possibly extend partially on into the parking lot beyond.

The much-anticipated new weight room, with windows looking out on the practice fields will take up much of the ground floor. Exactly how big the area will be is uncertain, but basically Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Ben Pollard has been promised one of the finest facilities in the country. The space above the new weight room will include offices and meeting rooms, including a luxurious area suitable for entertaining prospects and their parents on recruiting weekends.

Looking out on the ‘short' practice field closest to the Football Complex, note at the far right the end of the current building. Also note beyond the fence to the left is the current Tennis Stadium. The proposed addition will extend the building further toward Bryant Drive. Plus, the Tennis Stadium beyond the fence will be bulldozed, and the space then added to the Drew-Thomas Practice Fields.

Along with the new weight-lifting area, virtually the entire bottom floor of the existing Football Complex will be renovated. The present locker rooms (one varsity and one walk-on) will be given over to Rodney Brown and his training staff. The absolute latest in rehabilitation equipment, including whirlpools, rehab machines, etc. will be installed.

There also has been talk that Dr. Andrews' Birmingham medical group, might contribute money to outfitting the new facility. But for many reasons, that may or may not come to pass.

Details are not known, but the current weight room area would likely be converted to an all-in-one locker room, including an adjacent player lounge.

There has also been talk of creating a patio area between the Football Complex and the practice fields (close to the corner between the current building and the tennis stadium) to be used by visiting recruits and their families, among other things.

Tennis stadium and courts

Plans are to move the entire tennis facility over near the present Recreation Center, including individual student courts to replace the ones where the new parking lot now sits. It's also believed that indoor courts will be built as well, making the area on the end of the Crisp Indoor Facility available. However, it's not certain how that space would be used. Logically, the existing wall separating tennis from football could be opened up to add to the floor space.

Extending the ‘short' practice fields

Prior to the construction of the Crisp Indoor Facility, there were three full-sized football fields next to each other, which were used by the football team. When Crisp was built, it cut off roughly half of the two fields' closest to the Football Complex length.

Once the tennis stadium is moved, that area will be added to the two present ‘short' fields, giving back the original three 100-yard fields.

When the landscaping is finished, athletes in the new weight room will be able to look out through large windows onto the lengthened practice fields.

Coleman Coliseum renovations

The front of Coleman Coliseum will be completely redone, adding offices, weight rooms and more.

Despite speculation from fans, there is not a lot of sentiment to remove seats from Coleman. When your basketball teams sells out the arena multiple times a year (which is now the case), it doesn't make much economic sense to eliminate a source of revenue. And that's especially true with Alabama basketball now clearly on the rise.

But the front of the basketball arena will get a major facelift. Several years back two separate gyms for volleyball and gymnastics were added to the back of Coleman, and this time around the front will be completely redone.

The renovation will extend forward over part of what is now the sidewalk/step area in front. Along with a new ticket office, a separate weight training area and coaches' offices will be added. There is also talk of an atrium-like space, with the coaches' offices looking down onto the athletic training area. However, the details of how that would be accomplished must wait for the unveiling of the official plans.

Besides redoing the building's front, Coleman's concourse area will be made over, including improved concession and restroom facilities.

‘Field Turf' installed inside Crisp

Athletes always prefer natural grass, but the ‘Field Turf' at the Independence Bowl impressed the Alabama players.

Most of the capital improvements are still in the future, but one important step has already begun. The old, worn-out artificial surface that has been used inside the Crisp Indoor Facility for years is in the process of being ripped up. Plans are to install the latest innovation in artificial turf in its place.

Known simply as ‘Field Turf,' the new surface is familiar to Franchione. "It's a good surface," he said. "I think in regard to artificial surfaces, it's the best that is out there. Of course you always prefer a natural grass field, but this is as close as you can get."

Fans that traveled to last year's Independence Bowl will also recognize the surface, because Shreveport's Independence Stadium used the product. In terms of appearance, the turf looks astonishingly real--even at fairly close range. And the players liked it as well. "It feels like grass," was Tyler Watts' assessment. "It's amazing what they can come up with.

The secret of the turf is millions of BB-sized rubber pellets. The grass-like strands are actually woven through the pellets, with gravity keeping the beads below the surface.

Health-wise, 'Field Turf' represents a significant improvement. Knee problems have been minimized, and the less-serious but extremely bothersome rug burns associated with most ‘rugs' are essentially gone. The only real problem is that the small pellets have a tendency to get into the players' eyes, and trainers need to be on hand to help flush them out.

Work began a few weeks back to remove the Crisp's old surface and then install the ‘Field Turf.'

Other items of note

The upstairs of the current Football Complex is also in for a surface refurbishing. New carpets and fresh paint will be added throughout, and lighting will also be improved. The extra space in the addition could also mean that some offices will be shifted, but those details are not yet known.

Though not really a part of the capital improvement plan, there is still talk of cutting a new road out from the back side of the Coleman parking lot. The extra entrance/exit to the parking area would aid in traffic flow. It's possible that the road would go over the railroad track in the direction of 15th Street, but a more likely route would be behind the Law School toward 8th Avenue.

And though it's still very much off in the future, there has also been talk of moving the current track stadium to surround the existing soccer fields. That would benefit both sports in the long term, while also making the land presently taken up by the stadium available for parking adjacent to Coleman Coliseum. Plus, University officials are always looking to create space that could also be used for RV parking on football weekends.

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